Spiritual Connection

Spiritual Connection

Spirituality focuses on the world we cannot see or touch. Once solely linked to religious practices and ideals, the definition of spirituality has more recently been expanded to encompass connections to the self, others, nature, and the cosmos. Every culture since ancient time has developed ways of thinking about and dealing with aspects of the spirit. “Spirituality is the lifeline that sustains people through stress and challenging times, an essential aspect of one's humanness.”15

How can this help?

Serious illness often leads someone to ponder aspects of the spirit: the nature of self, the meaning of life, and what happens when we die. The way someone handles these and other questions of the soul can influence their healing.

Of all the alternative/complementary approaches to health, prayer is the most frequently practiced. More than half of adults have prayed for better health.2 About 11,000 studies have been done on various aspects of spirituality and health.9 Often these studies use church attendance rather than a more complicated definition. But even by this simplified measure, the studies demonstrate that a spiritual connection can have a positive effect on many aspects of health. Prayer can change the brain. It can fire up the frontal lobe and quiet the parietal lobe, promoting a sense of calm.7 It can quiet the immune system as measured by IL-6, a marker of inflammation8,11 and improve the cardiovascular system, at least for non-smokers.6 The social support received at churches helps people cope with difficulties.10 The bottom line is that people who are more spiritual (as measured by church attendance) live longer3 and the more commitment to a spiritual life someone has, the greater the benefit.13

Since people with ITP have increased inflammation, are prone to developing blood clots, need to cope with difficult issues, and certainly want to extend their lives, developing a spiritual connection could help. In PDSA’s 2001 “Survey of Non-Traditional Treatments for ITP” about 41% of the people questioned said they used prayer to help improve their ITP. Of these, nearly half felt that prayer helped them and 25% felt it had a sustained effect on their platelet count and their bleeding symptoms.

 Many people want to discuss their spiritual beliefs with their physicians and this desire increases with the severity of their illness.1,12 But it is often a difficult topic to discuss for both patients and doctors. Now more than 100 medical schools offer courses on spirituality and health and some publish guides to help both physicians and patients ease the conversation.


A 2001 panel sponsored by the National Institutes of Health found that "Religious people who become upset by the belief that God has abandoned them or who become dependent on their faith, rather than their medical treatment, for recovery may inadvertently subvert the success of their recovery."4 In a study of HIV patients, those who considered God judgmental and punishing rather than loving and benevolent had a faster disease progression.5 In another study of people coping with a significant life event, those who saw the crisis as God’s punishment, harbored excessive guilt, remained angry when their belief in a cure did not occur, or refused appropriate medical treatment had a more difficult time coping.14

Our experience

“…The healing journey of ITP starts by daring, first of all, to open your heart and to give your knowledge and love to others. But the true power of healing is achieved when you dare to take in the love that is given back to you from others…” -Stevan Thayer, Interfaith Minister and Founder of Integrated Energy Therapy

“…In the people with ITP that I have worked with in my practice and at the conference there emerges a theme of challenge in life experience. In each case it was clear to me. The individual with a platelet disorder had internalized a world view of expectations and expected excellence. The details are unique for each person but the image is completely defined and rigid. They feel they must maintain and project or promote this image as their reality at whatever cost, and the cost is high indeed. [Whatever the context] the results are the same. The pressures created by theses disconnects over the long term create disease…The invitation is to be real, to be true to oneself. Living in integrity and aligned with the desires of the unique self is the challenge…”  -Nancy Russell, Energy Practitioner. From “ITP…Integrated Energy Therapy: Experience and Practice.” The Platelet News, Vol. 6, No. 3, Fall 2004

“I believe prayer has played a key role both in the stabilization that occurred and in my ability to have carried on day-to-day during the interim." -Ralph


1. Ehman JW et al. “Do patients want physicians to inquire about their spiritual or religious beliefs if they become gravely ill?” Arch Intern Med. 1999 Aug 9-23;159(15):1803-6.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10448785

2. Glazer S. “Can spirituality influence health?” Prayer and Healing. January 14, 2005 , vol. 15-2.

3. Gillum RF et al. “Frequency of Attendance at Religious Services and Mortality in a U.S. National Cohort.” Ann Epidemiol. 2008 February; 18(2): 124–129. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2659561/

4. Helliker K. “Body and Spirit: Why Attending Religious Services May Benefit Health.” The Wall Street Journal. May 3, 2005.

5. Ironson G et al. “View of God as benevolent and forgiving or punishing and judgmental predicts HIV disease progression.” J Behav Med. 2011 Dec;34(6):414-25. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21340531

6. King DE et al. “The relationship between attendance at religious services and cardiovascular inflammatory markers.” Int J Psychiatry Med. 2001;31:415–425. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11949739

7. Kluger J. “The Biology of Belief.” Time Magazine. Feb 12, 2009. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1879179-1,00.html

8. Koenig HG, et al. “Attendance at religious services, interleukin-6, and other biological parameters of immune function in older adults.” Int J Psychiatry Med. 1997;27(3):233-50. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9565726

9. Koenig et al.  Handbook of Religion and Health, 2nd edition p. xiv Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handbook_of_Religion_and_Health

10. Krause N. “Church-based social support and mortality.” J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2006;61:S140–S146. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16399948

11. Lutgendorf SK, “Religious participation, interleukin-6, and mortality in older adults.” Health Psychol. 2004 Sep;23(5):465-75. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15367066

12. MacLean CD, et al. “Patient preference for physician discussion and practice of spirituality.”  J Gen Intern Med. 2003 Jan;18(1):38-43. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12534762

13. McCullough ME et al. “Religious involvement and mortality: a meta-analytic review.” Health Psychol. 2000 May;19(3):211-22.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10868765

14. Pargament KI,et al. “The many methods of religious coping: development and initial validation of the RCOPE.”  J Clin Psychol. 2000 Apr;56(4):519-43. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10775045

15. Pulchalski CM et al. “Creating Healing Environments.” Health Progress. May/June 2006.


PDSA thanks Nancy Russell and Stevan Thayer for reviewing this page.


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